A Note from the Publisher on ‘The Holy Cities’ volume:
How fortunate that we may at once benefit from both an Arab and an Indian point of view on the faith, history, politics and civilization of the Islamic World and its sacred sites from the earliest of times. Sultan Ghalib, whose mother is the eldest grand-daughter of the sixth Nizam of Hyderbad, India, was the last ruler of the Hadramaut (South Yemen) and since resides in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, near Makkah and Medina, which are the focus of this monumental work.
As this volume literally brings alive the history of many centuries, it has something of interest for everyone, be he or she a scholar of the Middle East and the Islamic World, a Muslim longing for precious details of the Holy Sanctuaries and pilgrimage, or an art historian drawn to the great architectural complexes the world over.
In his royal style of English, the author transports us on an intriguing journey where we are introduced to hitherto little- or un-known places, personages and events. A real education altering one’s world-view!
What astounded me personally were the fascinating details – and even cataloging – of the enormous and fervent support and involvement over the centuries of the entire Muslim world, stretching from South East Asia to West Africa, in the maintenance of Makkah, Medina and Jerusalem. It is surprising to hear of India’s funding the Dome of the Rock and Mosque of al-Aqsa. Staggering sums were consistently donated not only for expansion and the repairs necessitated by such natural disasters as floods, earthquakes and fire, but also for the cities’ indigent population. International patronage was devoted towards education and various charitable endowments. The needed Hijaz railway was financed by individuals as well as the Muslim public from Iran, Morocco, Bokhara, Egypt, Europe, Aden, South East Asia, India, et al.
Included would appear to be mention of nearly all the rulers and key people from the Caliphate onwards. Struggles for power read like tales of mystery and intrigue. The sheer inclusion of the names and dates of all these important personages through time provides the reader with a reference work of substance. One comes to understand what a privilege and responsibility has been the role of those called “the Servitors of the Two Holy Sanctuaries.”
For a Muslim to follow the development of each key element found in the three sacred sanctuaries is deeply moving, such as the story of the Kiswa over tine, the enclosure of the Prophet’s tomb, the Maqam Ibrahim, and the exact circumstances of how Prophetic relics reached the Topkapi. And what a bonus to have included the very prayers which are to be said by Muslims making Tawaf, performing the Sa’y or standing in the Prophet’s garden, ar-Rauda. These prayers will also be of interest to the outsider who may wonder what the circumambulating pilgrims, for example, are saying. How exciting to have a letter from Al-Ghazali (d. 1111 CE) regarding insiring moments at the Hajj.
For the art historian who, for example, studies the Mughal period in India and has seen the portraits of Akbar and Jahangir, it is interesting to be able to envision these sultans alive, in their enthusiasm and involvement while readying the Hajj caravans. We mostly think of Shah Jahan only in association with the Taj Mahal, but now we meet him as a donor to the Holy Cities. Here we learn of the involvement of the Mughal court with Arabia.
I was brought to tears when Umar Fakhrad-din Pasha refused to leave his sworn post in defense of the Prophet’s mosque in Medina. He had held out against all odds and when at last he was torn away from his station, he fell weeping at the tomb of the Prophet, begging his forgiveness for having been forced to forego his oath.
Against the captivating backdrop of history, whether it be World War I, a famine, or the yoke of colonization, we witness the strength of the Muslim ummah working as one.
Quoting from Ihsanoglu’s introduction to the book, I agree that “Possibly the greatest benefit of this valuable book is that to the Western reader it provides a rare and truthful display of the development of events [in the Muslim world] from an Arab perspective which we hope will contribute to redressing the stereotypical misconceptions through which many Western writers have portrayed Islam, Muslim, and heir causes.”